In 1987, on the 250th Anniversary of its’ founding, I visited New Herrnhut Moravian Church on the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Visiting this mountain-side shrine and the jungle overhanging its cemetery impacted my life in a way I will carry to my grave. There are churches in the Western Hemisphere much older than Herrnhut but none can compete with its special history.
In 1737, the first missionaries of the modern era came to this jungle island to bring the gospel to African slaves. When Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann stepped ashore on St. Thomas, Bibles in hand, they struck the gong that awoke a slumbering evangelical church and sent the mission movement around the world. From the vibrations of that gong, in one century alone, more than 100,000,000 new believers in Latin America and the Caribbean have come to Christ. The story behind these young men is the Crown Jewel in the modern mission movement.
In the early 1700’s, a congregation of some 300 Anabaptists, Calvinists, Hussites, disciples of Swingle, Schwenkfold, and other non-conformists, sought refuge on the estate of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Saxony, eastern Germany. Like the Count, who was only 27 years old, most members of the community were young; all had fled persecution in other parts of Europe. In the beginning, they quarreled over doctrines of baptism, predestination, holiness, etc., until the Count encouraged them to concentrate on their love for Jesus. It was the Cross, not doctrines about the Cross, he reminded them, that purchased their redemption. In that understanding, they united in Covenant-agreement and began seeking the Lord in travailing prayer. The Count’s simple exhortation became the key that opened the congregation to an all-powerful invasion of the Holy Spirit. This is how it happened:
1. Tuesday, August 5, 1727, Count Zinzendorf spent the entire night in watching and prayer. “Herrnhut” means the “Lord’s Watch.”
2. Sunday, August 10, 1727, at noon, when Pastor Rothe preached, the congregation fell under the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Wednesday, August 13, 1727, at morning Communion, the power of God came upon the community in such shattering force that men working in the fields 10 miles away were stricken under the shock of it. Even today, its’ impact is without parallel in modern Christian history.
4. Tuesday, August 26, 1727, the children were anointed with 3 hours of anguished intercession.
5. Wednesday, August 27, 1727, at the initiation of the children, Herrnhut began a prayer meeting that lasted night and day, without stopping, one hundred years.
That century-long prayer meeting of laboring, travailing, intercession, 1727-1827, birthed the modern mission movement. One hundred years after it closed, and long after the original members of Herrnhut were dead, every Protestant denomination engaged in carrying the gospel to the heathen did so because of that century of Moravian praying. In 1737, ten years after the Holy Spirit’s fall, the first Moravians left for St. Thomas. During that decade of self-crucifying preparation, ripening of grace, they sought the Spirit’s endowing for the work. They well knew that once in the Virgin Islands, they too might become slaves. Still they determined to go. When the day came to make the choice as to who would be the first to leave, they wrote Scripture quotations on slips of paper and placed them in a box. After agonizing prayer, each person drew out one of the notes. Whether one stayed in Moravia or went to the mission field was determined by the instruction he withdrew. Acts 1:26. With heart racing, one of the young men opened his paper and read the words, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go.” Genesis 43:8.
Category: Church History